Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Battambang and Farewell Cambodia...

So arriving into Battambang reminded me of Kampot we had previously visited. The French colonial architecture was dominant in every street building and the ambiance of the whole town was content. The place was not too busy yet it still oozed life, Cambodian style. 

We ventured out on a tuk-tuk with our guide for the day 'Mr.Philay', we visited the old Bamboo Train first. This is a bamboo raft that is held together with rope and a local man with an engine sits on the bag, we both hopped on board our 'train', then we zoom off at great speed along the dis-used railway lines across the countryside. Arriving into a small rural village, the friendly locals welcome us dearly, providing me with a cold drink and making small jewellery items made of leaves. After wandering around the rice mill and spending time chatting to locals, we jumped aboard our train and headed back to our tuk tuk. Here, we headed to his friends place, where he grows and produces his own rice wine, then after he has produced enough he will turn the rest of the fermented wine into pig food. This was interesting place with plenty of interesting smells. Throughout the afternoon we ventured to a village bridge and a village where fruit bats live within the trees. Mr Philay smoked them out for us and woke them all up, so within 2 minutes we had over 100 huge fruit bats squeaking and flying around above our head in the sky, this was amazing! The day concluded with a hike upto the 'Killing Cave', this was a place where the Khmer Rouge murdered 10,000 local people but hitting them at the top of the cave with a weapon then tossing their bodies down the hole to the bottom of the cave. It was such a saddened place, yet at peace now too. A small monk provides bracelets which symbolise peace here and you can take time to say a small prayer and reflect upon your surroundings. 

After my action packed day, the next few days we opted to rest and relax. We each became to develop the 'Cambodian Cold' and did not feel too good. So, even when traveling constantly, my body was telling me to slow down and make sure I take it easy. Evidently, we rested up for 6days here in this lovely quaint town and then arranged to head to Bangkok. I was excited and eager to embrace a city that I had longed to see, not exactly sure of what would greet me...the famous Thai Ladyboys, Pad Thai Noodles, Crazy Neon Lights...I was pretty sure I would love it all! 

Exploring the abandoned train station in Battambang

The old train carts and sheds are now some locals homes

John and Mr Philay

Hopping on board our 'safe' carriage

Just about to leave and zoom towards the village

The friendly local people greeted me with smiles and Coca Cola

Some local children guiding me through the rice mill

Cambodia's version of the 'Golden Gate' bridge

Waking up the squeaky fruit bats

Climbing up the hill to the 'Killing Cave'

Overlooking the Battambang Province

The remains of the murdered Cambodians, many skulls and bones of men, women and children

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Angkor Wat and the magical temples...

Arising at 4am was not too bad for me, in a strange way reminded me of when your going on holiday and you wake up super early and head to the airport in darkness. It holds a great sense of excitement to me and this was the feeling I engulfed during my tuk tuk ride to the famous 'Angkor Wat'. Once, we arrived we listened to a local girl who mentioned to head inside towards the temple and go left by the lake, as this would be the best position to admire sunrise. Lots of people gather, quietly anticipating the rise of the sun and a feeling of excitement grows amongst the crowd. We enjoyed listening to the traditional music being played as the sky turned a mixture of inspiring colours, everything from blues, yellows and pinks, it was beautiful. 

Once, the darkened sky had lifted, we headed over to the young girls shack and enjoyed a interesting cup of tea and spent some time chatting and getting to know the locals there. The young girl mentioned that she rises at 4am and works to sell bracelets to tourists here at the temple, then she heads to school for 7am and studies all day, then in the evening returns to work selling items until 10pm when she goes to sleep. This lovely young lady was only 12 years old and her sister had the same routine and she was much younger. 

We headed back over to our spot by the lake and finally the magnificent sun rises and greets the temples with warmth and fascination. The sunshine steadily rises and makes the landscape appear even more beautiful and interesting than it already is. After spending some time admiring the sunrise, we headed out to explore the vast temple of Angkor Wat, the huge stone work and carvings that fill the temples with tales, stories, myths and astounding history. I instantly feel relaxed here walking around the temple itself, there is a natural calmness that crawls the walls and all I do is wander and admire the wealth of beauty this place has to offer. After spending time here, we headed over to Angkor Thom, this is a grand collection of temples all located in a sort temple city, called the 'Grand City'. The temple is being restored but the presence and wonder it holds is enchanting. The stones have huge carved faces that surround every angle of the temple and the intricate carvings all tell a story of the kingdom. When reflecting on history, the Khmer empire was huge, when at one time in history this place had over one million people living and working there when a distant London only inhabited 50,000 people. By mid-morning, we ventured to the Ta Prohm, this is a famous temple that once featured in the film Tomb Raider. It has a magical feeling as you enter through the ruins, lots of gigantic trees reign through the temple, roots powering through the rubble and almost becoming a part of the structure itself. The tree's have a sense of power and this is something you feel quickly as you explore the temple, the calmness of nature is both inside and outside of this temple. 

We finally wandered around the Grand Palace area and here you have a sense of the vast size of the structures they constructed hundreds upon hundreds of years ago. It is inspiring in the aspects of architecture and almost mystical in the sense of its history and presence. After a day of exploring these fantastic temples, we head back to Siem Reap to reflect on the beauty we have adored through the day and to happily take a well earned nap. 

Admiring the sky, awaiting sunrise...

Local girl (BoMoi) who had some tea with us at sunrise, plus the cutest dog in the world!

Watching the sun appear behind the tower

Enjoying the sunshine's reflection on the lake

Enjoying the morning sun, as we set off to explore the temples

Roaming through Angkor Wat

The vast size and architecture is inspiring

Exploring the dark and mysterious corridors

At Bayon Temple, greeted by hundreds of these carved faces

Chilling in the shade under a gigantic tree (these are some roots!)

Exploring the Ta Prohm temple, engulfed by amazing trees

The famous scene within Ta Prohm Temple...Tree & Temple

Enjoying wandering in and out of the temple

Self-picture taken as we rest by a tree in the temple

A lovely end to our day, exploring the magical temples

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Siem Reap...

Arriving at dawn in Siem Reap was a welcoming surprise, the city was already in full swing. Lots of people out power walking, tuk tuk drivers whizzing through the streets, the smells and sounds of Cambodian life greeted me with a smile. The minute I arrived at Siem Reap, I sensed this was a place I would really like, not only that it is a place I have now grown to really love. Siem Reap is much smaller than Phnom Penh, but the wealth and life it brings is brillaint, the people are friendly as ever and as it is more developed as a city, the place is oozing with culture and history. The first few days are spent wandering around this small place, taking in all the sights and traditional way of life. We manage to find a gem of a place, a small Khmer-French Bistro, which serves homemade bread and wonderful food, so I spend nearly every morning or afternoon eating bread and drinking tea here. 

On the Monday, me and John venture out of town to the Saving Orphanage and School. This was an amazing experience for us, to be able to meet all these beautiful children and share their experiences of education. The morning was spent having fun, interacting and playing with the children in the orphanage. All together 38 children are currently living at the orphanage, the age ranges from a one year old upto a 17year old. One element that strikes me is how happy all of the children are, they literally play happily with one another, doing what all children do and seem really happy. They do not have the material things in life and what they do have is limited. They recently received more funds so now the children have small wooden built bunk beds, before this a couple of months back they all slept on the floor. They have a small classroom where they all attend morning lessons and one library/playroom. The atmosphere at the orphanage is relaxed and content, as it is in a rural community, the orphanage is surrounded by local homes and rural fields. Me and John are welcomed with open arms (literally) by all the children and I thoroughly loved my morning with all of them. 

In the afternoon, we ventured over to the Savong School, here classes occur in the afternoons, the school delivers Khmer, Korean and English to all the local children for free. The classes are filled with motivation from the children, over here there is a thirst to learn. Every child here values education and knows that in order to make a better life for themselves they need to learn. To be able to learn more languages and have a greater amount of knowledge, you will be able to attain a good job and earn money to be able to have a good life and provide money and food back to your family. Cambodia is still a developing country and in a country like this, there is no security nets for assistance in society or a government who will provide money to live. There is no such thing as a benefit or any type of medical care that doesn't cost. Education is paramount over here, therefore, if people become ill or old, you still have to work as you will not be able to make any money and therefore not be able to buy food to live. We spend the afternoon, delivering a session on grammar to the children. I have a small class of young boys, around 16years of age, I found it difficult to even deliver the basics of how to ask a question. I spent over 30 minutes talking about when to use 'Can I and Could I' and also for some strange reason which I don't even know how I got there...what a dishwasher is! Sometimes, even in my teaching at home, I am prone to lose track of things!! The day ended with a long tuk tuk journey home and my respect and admiration to all those children who have a thirst and willingness to learn. 

The evenings in Siem Reap are my favourite, it is when the whole town comes to life. The hustle of people everywhere and bright lights, noise and amazing smells that roam the air. It was one of the few places I could picture myself spending a great deal of time. We mainly ate at the night market, which presented super tasty stir fried food, rustled up in a huge pan and delivered sizzling on your plate. I delved in with my chopsticks and a nice Angkor beer to wash it all down, perfect! As the week quickly passed by, we prepared for our big day at 'Angkor Wat' and began to get excited for exploring all the temples. I must admit, I have seen my share of temples over the past couple of months, so naively I thought I would just see a whole lot more of them in one big day, evidently, for what this place had in store for me was not some 'temple' but an experience that was almost magical...even in a fairytale kind of way. 

Arriving in the beautiful Siem Reap

Overlooking the river, watching the children play and splash around

Outside our guesthouse, heading out to the orphanage and school

In the playroom at the orphanage, reading with the children

Working on how to 'say' the English words

More children getting involved in reading, some are just playing and having fun!

Some of the girls head to school in the afternoon

John and his new 'crew' at the orphanage, even the dog loved him!

Working on 'girl power' 

Delivering a session to the boys

Discussing the use of questions in English

An American Fundraiser (Phil) and Savong himself with me at the school

John delivering the ABC

Off wandering around Siem Reap

The two friendly monks we bumped into and had a good chat along the way

Chilling in the park, think I am ready for my afternoon tea

The electric atmosphere of the night market

The pretty lights outside the New Market

Walking back to our guesthouse at night time

Monday, 21 November 2011


After spending a couple of hours squashed, mangled and extremely hot, cramped in the small minibus that carried me to Sihanoukville. We checked into our 'Monkey Republic' backpacker hostel, which was a rather nice accommodation, a small wooden bungalow with draped fairy lights surrounding the whole place. The plan was to head out into the town and see what Sihanoukville has on offer. 

After spending the first couple of hours strolling along the beach, having conversations and fun with locals, I noticed how relaxed everybody was here. The locals are used to seeing 'tourists'and can easily engage in banter and friendly chat, this is something that I have noticed all the way through Cambodia, the friendly culture and approaches of the people. It is something much more sincere here in how people engage with you, it is as though they really do value and show interest in having a conversation with you. The same as, I deeply value and enjoy all the conversations I have with the Cambodian people. 

This 'resort' is very developed and a lot of travelers venture here to party and have fun. Everything is set around the beach front, a long line of beach shacks that almost appear identical except they all have different names. Every shack offers the 50cents beers and $3 bbq foods, I must admit it is really good value for what you get. So, I am not going to say I shunned this development and went in search of solitude, I evidently embraced it! I do like to socialise and I believe everything is about balance in life. Having spent my past week in a paradise that was unimaginable and the quietness and beauty of the coast, I now craved excitement, people and most of all a party. This is definitely a place for a party! 

We spent most our days at the beach enjoying the sunshine and splashing in the sea. The locals swarm around your bed and offer everything from pedicures, manicures, massage and threading. So, after a couple of days me and John sat under our parasol in the blazing sun, sipping a beer whilst each receiving a manicure and pedicure on the beach...that set us back $2! We spend our evenings strolling along the beach, enjoying our bbq food then walking to a shack that became our 'local'', this was a place called the 'Moonshack'. The people who owned and worked here where great local people who couldn't do enough for you, each time we visited here, they grew to know us personally and we really felt comfortable and happy to share company with the 'Moonshack' crew. 

After a long week of partying and taking in the sights of 'Sinville' which this resort is otherwise known was more than enough for me. I felt ready to venture back on the road and to see more culture of Cambodia and search for something new. Once I had packed up the backpack, we waited through the evening and at 8pm awaited our night bus that will journey us all the way up to Siem Reap. 

On reflection, I had an amazing time here, I met so many other travelers and some have become really good friends, who we will later meet up with. I had such a lovely time with the local people and in a way enjoyed 'letting my hair down' and spending some days just doing nothing. This is something when traveling that I have grown to believe is important. Now that I am traveling I admit I am more free, open and happy, this is something I am not ashamed of but more importantly proud of. However, by always being on the 'go', I have to remember to slow down and spend some days doing the formidable 'nothing', as both physically and mentally we all need it in order to stay healthy, happy and strong. 

Enjoying a fruit shake by the sea

One rare overcast day in 'Sinville

Adoring our lovely mosquito net in the room

Spending one of many nights at the 'Moonshack'

Chilling on the beach at sunset

Awaiting my bbq food at sunset

Getting ready for our 'party' night out

Outside our room in the lovely jungle of plants and fairy lights

Enjoying my first beer of the night

John and Lee behind the bar in good ole 'Moonshack'' 

Partying in 'Sinville'', with strange barman Henry behind

Chilling on our last night in the lively Sihanoukville